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   Chapter 51 No.51

Come Rack! Come Rope! By Robert Hugh Benson Characters: 7199

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


It was strange to Robin to walk about the City, and to view all that he saw from his new interior position. The last time that he had been in his own country on that short visit with "Captain Fortescue," he had been innocent in the eyes of the law, or, at least, no more guilty than any one of the hundreds of young men who, in spite of the regulations, were sent abroad to finish their education amid Catholic surroundings. Now, however, his very presence was an offence: he had broken every law framed expressly against such cases as his; he had studied abroad, he had been "ordained beyond the seas"; he had read his mass in his own bedchamber; he had, practically, received a confession; and it was his fixed and firm intention to "reconcile" as many of "her Grace's subjects" as possible to the "Roman See." And, to tell the truth, he found pleasure in the sheer adventure of it, as would every young man of spirit; and he wore his fine clothes, clinked his sword, and cocked his secular hat with delight.

The burden of what he had heard still was heavy on him. It was true that in a manner inconceivable to any but a priest it lay apart altogether from his common consciousness: he had talked freely enough to Mr. Charnoc and the rest; he could not, even by a momentary lapse, allow what he knew to colour even the thoughts by which he dealt with men in ordinary life; for though it was true that no confession had been made, yet it was in virtue of his priesthood that he had been told so much. Yet there were moments when he walked alone, with nothing else to distract him, when the cloud came down again; and there were moments, too, in spite of himself, when his heart beat with another emotion, when he pictured what might not be five years hence, if Elizabeth were taken out of the way and Mary reigned in her stead. He knew from his father how swiftly and enthusiastically the old Faith had come back with Mary Tudor after the winter of Edward's reign. And if, as some estimated, a third of England were still convincedly Catholic, and perhaps not more than one twentieth convincedly Protestant, might not Mary Stuart, with her charm, accomplish more even than Mary Tudor with her lack of it?

* * * * *

He saw many fine sights during the three or four days after his coming to London; for he had to wait there at least that time, until a party that was expected from the north should arrive with news of where he was to go. These were the instructions he had had from Rheims. So he walked freely abroad during these days to see the sights; and even ventured to pay a visit to Fathers Garnett and Southwell, two Jesuits that arrived a month ago, and were for the present lodging in my Lord Vaux's house in Hackney.

He was astonished at Father Southwell's youthfulness.

This priest had landed but a short while before, and, for the present, was remaining quietly in the edge of London with the older man; for himself was scarcely twenty-five years old, and looked twenty at the most. He was very quiet and sedate, with a face of almost feminine delicacy, and passed a good deal of his leisure, as the old lord told Robin, in writing verses. He appeared a strangely fine instrument for such heavy work as was a priest's.

On another day Robin saw the Archbishop land at Westminster Stairs.

It was a brilliant day of sunshine as he came up the river-bank, and a little crowd of folks at the head of the stairs drew his attention. Then he heard, out of sight, the throb of oars grow louder; then a cry of command; and, as he reached the head of the stairs and looked over,

the Archbishop, with a cloak thrown over his rochet, was just stepping out of the huge gilded barge, whose blue-and-silver liveried oarsmen steadied the vessel, or stood at the salute. It was a gay and dignified spectacle as he perceived, in spite of his intense antipathy to the sight of a man who, to him, was no better than an usurper and a deceiver of the people. Dr. Whitgift, too, was no friend to Catholics: he had, for instance, deliberately defended the use of the rack against them and others, unashamed; and in one particular instance, at least, as Bishop of Worcester, had directed its exercise in the county of Denbigh. These things were perfectly known, of course, even beyond the seas, to the priests who were to go on the English mission, in surprising detail. Robin knew even that this man was wholly ignorant of Greek; he looked at him carefully as he came up the stairs, and was surprised at the kindly face of him, thin-lipped, however, though with pleasant, searching eyes. His coach was waiting outside Old Palace Yard, and Robin, following with the rest of the little crowd, saluted him respectfully as he climbed into it, followed by a couple of chaplains.

As he walked on, he glanced back across the river at Lambeth. There it lay, then, the home of Warham and Pole and Morton, with the water lapping its towers. It had once stood for the spiritual State of God in England, facing its partner-(and sometimes its rival)-Westminster and Whitehall; now it was a department of the civil State merely. It was occupied by men such as Dr. Grindal, sequestrated and deprived of even his spiritual functions by the woman who now grasped all the reins of the Commonwealth; and now again by the man whom he had just seen, placed there by the same woman to carry out her will more obediently against all who denied her supremacy in matters spiritual as well as temporal, whether Papists or Independents.

* * * * *

The priest was astonished, as he reached the precincts of Whitehall, to observe the number of guards that were everywhere visible. He had been warned at Rheims not to bring himself into too much notice, no more than markedly to avoid it; so he did not attempt to penetrate even the outer courts or passages. Yet it seemed to him that an air of watchfulness was everywhere. At the gate towards which he looked at least half a dozen men were on formal guard, their uniforms and weapons sparkling brilliantly in the sunshine; and besides these, within the open doors he caught sight of a couple of officers. As he stood there, a man came out of one of the houses near the gate, and turned towards it: he was immediately challenged, and presently passed on within, where one of the officers came forward to speak to him. Then Robin thought he had stood looking long enough, and moved away.

* * * * *

He came back to the City across the fields, half a mile away from the river, and, indeed, it was a glorious sight he had before him. Here, about him, was open ground on either side of the road on which he walked; and there, in front, rose up on the slope of the hill the long line of great old houses, beyond the stream that ran down into the Thames-old Religious Houses for the most part, now disguised and pulled about beyond recognition, ranging right and left from the Ludgate itself: behind these rose again towers and roofs, and high above all the tall spire of the Cathedral, as if to gather all into one, culminant aspiration…. The light from the west lay on every surface that looked to his left, golden and rosy; elsewhere lay blue and dusky shadows.

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